How a musician made me see architecture differently
I’ve had a micro-epiphany. It allowed me to see an artifact that I hate in a different light because I was exposed to similar artistic impulses in a different medium. Which is an annoying way of saying that I hate the architecture of this guy: Frank Gehry.
Here’s a building he designed in my home town of Seattle, it’s the Experience Music Project building or EMP for short.
I’ve always thought it looked giant clown robot vomit.
His work is deconstructivist. (Or post-structuralist if you think that sounds too aggressive) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deconstructivism
This Wiki says: “It is characterized by fragmentation, an interest in manipulating a structure's surface or skin, non-rectilinear shapes which appear to distort and dislocate elements of architecture, such as structure and envelope. The finished visual appearance of buildings that exhibit deconstructivist "styles" is characterized by unpredictability and controlled chaos.”
And I don’t like that in architecture. But I wonder why? It’s curious to me because the values BEHIND the movement are interesting to me and something I like to experiment with in my own artistic endeavors from time to time.
The answer, it turns out, was that I was missing a vital element. And I discovered what that element was through the discovery of musical artist that I’ve quickly grown to love. A French musician named Gautier Serre working under the moniker Igorrr. I’ve never heard anything quite like this. Give it a listen if you dare, and if you can make it through the track you may appreciate my point better. If you can’t make it through, congratulations, now you know how I feel when I drive past the EMP.
I’ve rarely felt so challenged by a musician before. (Not counting lyrics) I feel like each song is a puzzle to be figured out. The continual transitions and constant surprises make them feel alive and narrative, inviting speculation and exploration. The beat never settles for more than a few seconds, always leaving your brain grasping, which can be exhausting, but also exhilarating if you’re in the mood.
I think a good way to describe his music would be thusly: “It is characterized by fragmentation, an interest in manipulating a structure's surface or skin, non-rectilinear shapes which appear to distort and dislocate elements of architecture, such as structure and envelope. The finished visual appearance of buildings that exhibit deconstructivist "styles" is characterized by unpredictability and controlled chaos.” Just swap out architecture for music.
When I first heard his music I wasn’t sure if it was a pretentious exercise in juxtaposition for its own sake, or something other. Then I hit this track.
Specifically around 1:50 - 2:20. If you think that sounds like he just remixed a chicken… yes he did. Now I could be wrong, and perhaps he takes himself super seriously and is intending that remixed chicken to be a profound statement. But to me, that, along with song titles like Lullaby for a Fat Jellyfish and Very Long Chicken, clearly indicate that this is not an attempt at abstract profundity, but rather an artist at play. And that’s something I can respect. Besides being in a constant state of exploration in my own art through constantly experimenting with my materials and processes, a sense of fun and whimsy is usually a prominent feature in my work even when I delve into the grotesque. So you could say his aesthetic resonates with me pretty deeply.
But key to that resonating for me was the aspect of play, humor, and fun. And that’s what I realized was my oversight when I look at Frank Gehry’s architecture. It’s like I’ve been using a hermeneutic of suspicion when approaching it, rather than taking it’s prima facie appearance for what it clearly is: silly. It’s playful, funny, and if I can drop my preconceptions about what architecture is “supposed to be”, I would be able to appreciate it. So while I still think the EMP looks like a pile of giant clown robot vomit, I can now appreciate that fact a little bit more.